Similar to recent years, the beverage category accounted for more than half of the top 10-selling new products in 2004, as a weight-conscious public found a number of health-oriented drinks on store shelves. While Coca-Cola Co. (Atlanta) and PepsiCo (Purchase, N.Y.) occupied their familiar places among the top-selling introductions, the year also saw a pair of smoothies garner success.

The better-selling of the two, Yoplait Nouriche from General Mills (Minneapolis), accounted for $89 million in year-one sales to net the fifth spot on Information Resources Inc.'s (IRI, Chicago) top 10 New Product Pacesetters. Flavors include tropical, mixed berry, strawberry, strawberry banana, raspberry and peach, the latter four also available in light versions with 170 calories per bottle (as opposed to the roughly 290 calories per bottle of the regular varieties). Citing a survey of 1,500 women between the ages of 25 and 55, Yoplait finds 32% often skipping meals and, therefore, needing help to meet basic nutritional needs. Nouriche promises a “yogurt smoothie with the nourishment of a meal” by including 20 vitamins and minerals, plus protein, in addition to the live and active cultures common to all Yoplait products. Nouriche did not skimp on the added benefits, either. Each serving offers 25% of the Daily Value (DV) of 17 vitamins and minerals, 30% of the DV for calcium, 20% for protein (10g) and 22% for fiber (6g) in the form of inulin.

Nouriche faces direct competition from another top seller this year, namely Light 'n Fit Carb Control from Dannon (Allentown, Pa.), available as either a smoothie or in the yogurt section, albeit described there as a “cultured dairy snack” made with yogurt cultures and sweetened with sucralose. Among the ingredients in the “dairy snack” are water, skim milk, cream and whey protein concentrate.

The four flavors (Strawberries 'n Cream, Peaches 'n Cream, Raspberries 'n Cream, Vanilla Cream and Blueberries 'n Cream) contain 60 calories per serving, 3g of fat and 3g of carbohydrates. The initial two flavors (Berries 'n Cream and Strawberries 'n Cream) have 4g of carbs, 70 calories and 3g of fat. Combined, Light 'n Fit Carb Control tallied $75 million in year-one sales to capture the ninth spot in the list of 2004's top sellers.

Such a strong debut for the low-carbohydrate Light 'n Fit Carb Control is testament to the power of the carb-slashing diet in 2004, especially considering one of the product's chief competitors in the frozen food aisle garnered the most sales this year. As a matter of fact, CarbSmart (Huntington Beach, Calif.) is a brand found across supermarket aisles--be it CarbSmart pasta from Monterey Pasta (Salinas, Calif.) or Bayer's (Morristown, N.J.) One-A-Day CarbSmart range of multi-vitamins, which promise to break down fats and proteins into energy with more biotin and provide the essential nutrients needed when enduring a carb-restricted diet.

Get Smart

The CarbSmart ice cream from Unilever's Good Humor-Breyers (Green Bay, Wis.), however, proved the strongest product introduction in 2003-2004, at least in terms of year-one sales. The long-term potential for any of the abundance of recent low-carb introductions is dodgy at best, considering recent data suggest consumers are abandoning the high-protein, low-carbohydrate lifestyle. For the first year, however, Breyers CarbSmart managed $137 million in sales. Regarding the long-term future, Dan Hammer, vice president of marketing and development with Good Humor-Breyers, believes the products address consumer demands beyond simply low-carb.

“The new light products meet the needs of the many consumers who are customizing their low-carb diets by cutting back on fat as well as carbs,” he explains. “According to our own research, 60% of carb-conscious consumers are seeking products lower in fat. These CarbSmart products are lower in fat than regular ice cream and indulgent-tasting.”

The initial launch had only two flavors--a Neapolitan mix of vanilla ice cream and chocolate and strawberry sorbets, and Vanilla & Chocolate (the Neapolitan sans the strawberry sorbet).

The mix of ice cream and sorbet has led to an intriguing nutritional facts panel, as the Good Humor-Breyers' website lists data for each separately. The vanilla ice cream is sugar-free and contains 130 calories per half-cup serving, as well as 9g of fat, 3g of fiber, 4g of protein and 9g of carbohydrates. Meanwhile, per half-cup serving, the chocolate sorbet has 4.5g of fat (4g in the strawberry sorbet), 2g of fiber (3g in the strawberry), 70 calories, 2g of protein and 9g of carbohydrates (the latter three are in the same amounts in the strawberry sorbet as well). With 6g of the carbs coming from sugar alcohols, CarbSmart touts the line as the nation's first zero net carb ice cream.

The product's total sales also benefited from a zero net carb version of Creamsicles in orange and mixed berry flavors, as well as CarbSmart Klondike frozen novelties in either vanilla or fudge forms. Those latter two, however, had 5g and 3g of net carbohydrates, respectively.

A similar effort to blend indulgence and more-healthful properties has proven a recipe for success in the frozen entrée case as well. Flavor Adventures, the new addition to ConAgra's (Omaha, Neb.) Healthy Choice range, feature ingredients not commonly found in frozen entrées, and a number of the line's extensions reflect the wide-reaching consumer demand for an ethnic flair in their mealtime options. While Cream Herb-roasted Chicken and Grilled Chicken Caesar may not sound cutting-edge, the line also includes such varieties as Beef Merlot, Chicken Margherita, Grilled Whiskey Steak, Grilled Chicken Marinara, Princess Chicken, Chicken Tuscany, Grilled Steak with Roasted Garlic Sauce, Roasted Chicken Chardonnay and Oriental Style Beef. Capitalizing on the success of an $80 million first year, the line has been augmented with four new entrées: Grilled Chicken Baja, chicken breast in a Southwestern-style sauce with rice and vegetables; Cajun Style Chicken and Shrimp, chicken breast and shrimp in a Cajun-style sauce with rice and vegetables; Roasted Chicken Marsala, chicken tenderloins in marsala wine sauce with penne pasta and vegetables; and Apple Glazed Pork Medallions.

As with other Healthy Choice lines, Flavor Adventures trims the fat, the Cajun Style Chicken and Shrimp registering the least fat in the line--3.5g. Chicken Tuscany and Oriental Style Beef share top honors for the most fat, each boasting 9g. In this year of constant carb countdown, the Flavor Adventures line is something of an exception, as the line ranged from a low of 23g in the Roasted Chicken Marsala to a high of 46g in several of the items.

The Healthy Choice products are not positioned solely along healthful lines, however. The line also serves as a convenience, a need which cannot be overstated considering the results of that aforementioned Yoplait Nouriche survey. Almost two-thirds (62%) do not eat breakfast; 36% opt for a fast food drive-through option when they do have a meal, leaving 48% who say they regularly or often (at least four times per week) make unhealthful eating choices. As evidenced by many of this year's top sellers, IRI attests, consumers seem perfectly willing to eat and drink more-healthful foods and beverages, if they do not have to sacrifice taste or convenience. Of course, that has been the goal for most developers. Actually meeting such stringent criteria has been the challenge.

Indulge Me

Considering the trend toward wellness and weight watching, it is something of a surprise to find several indulgences among the year's best sellers. While Smirnoff (Hartford, Conn.) Twisted V malt beverage may be the last of the major successes to stem from the flavored alcoholic beverage (FAB) craze so popular several years ago, several other introductions may signal a return of consumer interest in full-flavored, more-indulgent offerings. Nabisco Ritz Chips from Kraft Foods North America (Northfield, Ill.), for instance, are little more than small, flavored versions of their full-size counterparts, yet they netted $76 million in first-year sales to capture the eighth spot. Beverages, meanwhile, continue to capitalize on the popularity of incorporating new flavors into traditional varieties. The addition of vanilla may seem old hat now (considering Vanilla Coke first appeared on IRI Pacesetter's radar two years ago), but it helped Pepsi Vanilla capture the second spot on this year's list--and, more importantly, $125 million in year-one sales. PepsiCo further capitalized on added flavor with the orange taste of Mountain Dew LiveWire, which commanded $72 million and the 10th spot. Interestingly, LiveWire was launched as a seasonal offering, available only during the summer. Similarly, this year saw the introduction of Pitch Black, a grape-flavored version of the Dew available only in the fall.

Looking to the future, the beverage category seems poised to command a sizeable portion of next year's bestsellers; however, there could be trouble on the horizon for the category. IRI foresees three new beverages in next year's top 10, yet some of the more-notable entries have not performed as well as might have been expected. While Coca-Cola has been a regular contributor to the bestselling list in recent years, the first-year performances of its major introductions have begun to lag. In 2002, Vanilla Coke topped the PaceSetters list with $207.6 million in sales, the same year that Diet Coke with Lemon accounted for $139.1 million in its first year. The following year saw the completion of Vanilla Coke's first full year of sales and brought the beverage to a full-year total of $292.1 million. Sprite Tropical Remix garnered $98.7 million in its first 40 weeks but, as this year's PaceSetters list shows, sales of the new Sprite faltered in the final 12 weeks of its first year, as the beverage managed full-year sales of $113 million. Diet Coke with Lime captured $119 million to wrest the third spot this year, just ahead of the remixed Sprite but, if IRI's forecast is to be believed, 2005 will be the first time in several years that a beverage does not crack the vaunted $100 million mark in its first year, and it will not even be close: Coke's C2 has been on the market for 32 weeks so far, and consumer response has been mixed at best. IRI projects the calorie- and sugar-reduced beverage will register $77 million in year-one sales, and Coca-Cola does not have another product forecast even to be in the top 10.

To be fair, the poor performance of new beverages is not a reflection exclusively upon Coca-Cola. PepsiCo and Dr Pepper/7Up (Plano, Texas) need to share some of the spotlight as well. Coke's C2 is expected to be the leading new beverage; its direct competition, Pepsi Edge, does not even project in the top 10, which is expected to include two other beverages--Diet Sierra Mist Free (PepsiCo), predicted to garner $57 million and the sixth spot, and 7Up Plus (Dr Pepper/7Up) in ninth with $44 million.

Sales Slip

All will be well short of that $100 million mark, a boundary surpassed by four products this year, the same number last year and an eye-popping seven two years ago. In fact, the only product expected to surpass the nine-digit mark in 2004-2005 will be Slim-Fast Optima weight control shakes and snack bars, although Kraft's CarbWell line of sauces, dressings, cereals, cookies and snack bars/granola bars may come close: $97 million, IRI predicts. Nonetheless, this leaves a top 10 with sales noticeably atrophied even from this year, much less two years ago. One obvious reason to ponder is that IRI data do not include sales figures for America's largest grocery retailer, Wal-Mart (Bentonville, Ark.) but, keep in mind, IRI has not included Wal-Mart data since 2002. Certainly, Wal-Mart's prominence must be considered but so, too, must the simple proliferation of products on all supermarket shelves.

Even excluding Wal-Mart, IRI shows over 850 new products hitting store shelves in 2004, from less than 750 in 2003, and a marked increase from the 547 introductions just two years ago. The past year has been one of the most active periods in recent history, a fact IRI attributes to manufacturers' increased attention to innovation to “drive growth in a slow-growth environment.”

The competition in such an active environment has grown fierce and, as a result, only 22% of new F&B products met IRI's $7.5 million sales criterion to be named New Product Pacesetters, a far cry from the 27% average historically. This does not include similar products within certain companies' own portfolios. Coke, for instance, has made tremendous efforts to reach the weight-conscious consumer looking for a soft drink; however, supermarket shelves boast no fewer than seven versions of the company's sugar- or calorie-reduced soft drink: Diet Coke, Caffeine-free Diet Coke, Diet Cherry Coke, Diet Coke with Lemon, Diet Coke with Lime, C2 and Diet Vanilla Coke. This summer, the number will jump to nine, with the launch of a sucralose-sweetened version of Diet Coke and the new Coke Zero, sweetened with a blend of aspartame and acesulfame potassium. Will these latter two make their ways onto a future Pacesetter list? It is too early to say, but each faces a far more competitive field than any of its predecessors, even within the company's own portfolio.

Nonetheless, the propensity to extend a brand rather than create one fresh continues. This year, only 6% of all Pacesetters were new brands--less than half of the average over the past years and well off the high of 22% in 1997.

Sidebar: Capturing the Spirit

The deadline is fast-approaching for nominations for the 2005 Spirit of Innovation Awards, which recognize exceptional, innovative product development teams for their work on exciting new products. Categories for the 2005 Spirit of Innovation Awards are foods for sale in retail (grocery) stores and prepared foods for sale to foodservice operations.

A Prepared Foods panel will review nominated products, judging each on the following criteria:

  • The obvious need for coordination among several of a company's departments and vendors, as seen in the complexity of a product and as explained in the product's nomination form,

  • Ingenuity of the product's concept (which also may include packaging elements),

  • Sensory quality of the food or beverage,

  • The commercial launch of the product into the retail or foodservice distribution channel, and

  • Willingness of the company to work with Prepared Foods in regards to editorial efforts and attendance at the 2005 New Products Conference.

    Nominations for the 2005 Spirit of Innovation Awards are due by June 27, 2005. They may be submitted by a company, or by a vendor on its behalf. Entry forms and further details may be found on the Spirit of Innovation section of Prepared Foods' website: HTML/_PF_Spirit_Innovation/1,1287,,00.html.

    For more information, contact William Roberts, 630-694-4348 or

    Past Spirit of Innovation Award Winners


  • 2004: Barilla America Inc. (Bannockburn, Ill.) for Restaurant Creations, a line of sauces, inspired by the authentic tastes and cuisines of Italy.

  • 2003: Schwan Food Company (Marshall, Minn.) for Red Baron Pizza Slices, which boasted a proprietary crust, triangular shape and robust fillings.


  • 2004: Campbell Soup Co.'s Away From Home Division (Camden, N.J.) for the V8 line of soups, entrées and chilis.

  • 2003: Wells' Dairy (Le Mars, Iowa) for the Friazos line of dessert cups with the quality and presentation of a center-of-the-plate dessert.

    Honorable Mentions

  • 2004 Foodservice: Fishery Products International Inc. (Danvers, Mass.) for UpperCrust Natural Cut Fillets

  • 2004 Retail: Masterfoods USA (Hackettstown, N.J.) for Snickers Marathon